Tag Archives: Lesson Plans

Great On-Line Learning

I wanted to share with you Hippo Campus. This is a wonderful independent learning site for many courses, particularly algebra. Students are provided an opportunity to warm up to the lesson, reviewing and assess previous learned skills, and then move into video lessons that walk them through the mathematics unit. Instruction can be geared to the student’s pace. Opportunities to assess learning are provided throughout. The explanations are very clear and accurate.

If  I had one thing to change about the site it would be the font size. It seems a bit small and difficult to read, however, this is not in reference to the instructional window. This is regarding the scrolling lesson outlines to the left and the explanation boxes that appear to help students along. I find the key notes at the bottom of the instruction window very helpful. For instance, if the lesson, activity or problem involves a certain algebraic property or definition, this is provided below the window the lesson is being presented in.

If you teach algebra, this is certainly a site to have linked on your webpage or provided to students and parents for extra support for your class.

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Parent Communication

Year after year, after year, there always seems to be more to do at the beginning of the school year than any human can possibly accomplish. I would like to emphasize one, and only one thing, for the first  3 -4 weeks to accomplish. This would be parent communication. Please make at least one contact home, verbally speaking with a parent or guardian, within the first 3-4 weeks of school. This is a valuable opportunity to make a connection to home; to put your best foot forward; to stress the passion you have for educating their child or student. If at all possible, I would recommend moving those students that are already pushing your buttons to the front of that call line; however, I would only say nice things.

I know…I know….there are some students that are really showing their true colors in the first week of school. Keep in mind…these students are instituting their best defenses during this period. This may just be a front to protect their integrity, their ego, and their pride. These students may be trying to make a place for themselves in the only society they know…school. Let them. However, make a connection home to let their parent(s) or guardians know that you have their best interests in mind. Let them know that you will work with them to insure that “Johnny” or “Susie” have the best year ever. Let them know that the communication lines are always open, in both directions. It’s amazing what positive gains will occur with a simple, casual conversation.

With that said, I would suggest a cheat-sheet of sorts to use when you call parents/guardians the first time. Try to be consistent with the information you give to all parents. As we all know, parents do talk with one another. You’re laughing, but mark my words…. say X, Y and Z to parent A, and G, H, I to parent B, parent A and B talk, …you know what will come your way.

Don’t be afraid to encourage parents/guardians to come into your class for a class period. Some will take you up on it and others will not. When they do, don’t put on a show. Be yourself. Keep your normal routines. Maintain the same expectations. This will paint a real picture for them. For the ones that take you up on this offer, be sure to continue communications home throughout the year, good and bad. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child. With that said, I would also keep a record sheet for each student to record the parental contact you have made and the reasons for doing so, including returning phone calls from parents. Come April or May, this will prove to be a value resource for those students that have been “high-flyers” all year.

The key is communication home. I certainly do not want to disillusion you into thinking that every parent or guardian will be responsive to you making calls home. Some will and some won’t. The key is to do what you should on your end….and that’s making sure that the line is open. Sometimes, it’s just one-sided.

Best of luck!

Lesson Plan Map

Every July when I was a teacher, anticipation would begin to bubble up inside me with the start of the new school year just weeks away. This usually was invoked by the sights and sounds of back-to-school sales. Nothing got me more excited than the dollar deals at Target and Walmart, not to mention the penny deals at Staples. Oh how Staples misses my business.

In addition to my fetish for new school supplies each year, I was also addicted to meticulously planning out the next school year. This interest was usually sparked by summer workshops/trainings I was fortunate enough to attend. These activities always got my brain spinning on ideas of new activities, instructional techniques and the sequence of the curriculum. You would think not much would change from the year before; however, in all of my 10 years of teaching, I only once experienced back-to-back years where the courses I taught and the curriculum I used remained constant. All other years, I basically had to recalibrate my brain and my resources based around the grade and course I was going to teach. This included a curriculum map for the entire year. I would start with a blank printed copy of each month, and I would then pencil in the mathematics standard, objective, and even the chapters/sections in the textbook, along with all known activities I could use to teach that objective. This was not something I completed in a few days. This usually took me the better part of 2 weeks per course that I taught to complete, keeping a separate file per course.

Keep in mind, this regimen was largely due to my OCD tendencies, but in the end, it sure did make for an easy year. With that said, I won’t lie. I was never able to stick to it exactly, but it served as a road map for the year and kept me focus on what needed to be accomplished. After about year 7, I began to construct this file using Word, strictly for the purpose of sharing with fellow teachers. When I taught in South Carolina, it was a requirement to submit typed lesson plans each week, and post these to our website each week for parents and students to access. Looking back now, and after becoming an avid user of google docs, I really wish I had created a “one-stop-shop” for anything dealing with my lessons. This would include notes, activities, and assignments. Of course, it’s not until I stop teaching that I thought of this and have the time to create an excel file, in conjunction with google docs, to accomplish this task. Funny how things happen.

The file Excel Lesson Link is a template to use to map out your curriculum for the year. This file is actually accessed via my google docs page, as a shared file, hyperlinked within this file. In the Excel Lesson Link file are two other files that are linked to my google docs page that illustrate the capabilities of the file. One is a lesson plan and the other is an activity I used with my algebra students, already link to this blog. When you create your weekly lesson plans, all you have to do is upload them to your google docs page, as a shared document (anyone who has the link can view), and copy the link into the excel file as a hyperlink. In the excel file, clicking on “Insert” and then “Hyperlink” will allow for you to choose the text that displays in the file for the link you are sharing. You can attach all the files you need for each week, or per day, in the colored portion of each day on the calendar. The white section for each day can be used as the descriptors and content information, like the standard and objective and the textbook information. This document can be used in any capacity you so desire. Keep in mind, the goal of this file is to have it act as your one-stop-shop file. You could access it from any computer and pull up the files you need for your lesson. In addition, files and information is so much easier to share with fellow teachers, parents and students.

A few notes about goggle documents:

Google documents is a tool within gmail. If you do not have gmail, you would need to create an account. There may be another functionality out there similar to google docs that I’m not aware of. I will only speak of what I know for this post’s purpose.

I would create a structure of file categories and names per your class structure before uploading any files. This may consist of a main file of let’s say, “8th Grade Math”. Then I might break it up into chapters or content areas, class periods, or maybe even semesters or 9 weeks categories. The number of files uploaded may be very high, so creating subcategories will be very helpful for when you need to find a file. Creating the shell of an outline will prove to be very helpful in the end. Be sure that you “share” each file, requiring the link in order for a person to access the file. I would not make any of your files public. Lastly, it is in your best interest to pdf you’re the file before you post it. Otherwise, your files may be altered without your permission. That’s just not a situation you want to find yourself in.

I hope this resource helps you get organized for the year, if not for anyone but for yourself. If you’re unfamiliar with google documents, please play around with this before trying to utilize the excel file. It IS a great resource and DOES make your life easier. Like always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions shannon.m.richards@gmail.com .I truly want to help make your teaching-life easier.

It’s always my pleasure!

Files for this post:

Lesson Plan Map Word File

Lesson_Plan_Map Pdf

Excel Lesson Link Excel 2007

Lesson Plan Map 97-2003  Excel 97-2003

Positive Value Classroom Experience

So, you’ve had a few days with your new group of students and things seem to be going well. Well, of course! The first few weeks or so is the honeymoon phase. Most of your students are not showing you their true colors yet. You’re just as guilty. You’ve been so upbeat and positive, but firm and professional. If only the rest of the year could be like these first few days, school wouldn’t feel like, well, school. Let’s talk about ways in which this honeymoon phase can last a little longer, or at the very least, reappear from time to time throughout the year.

First and foremost, let’s understand why the students are so well behaved the first few weeks.

  • They don’t know you yet; therefore, they don’t know what buttons of yours they can push.
  • You don’t know them; therefore, you are providing them with the benefit of the doubt and being non-judgmental.
  • You’re interested in them. You’re asking them questions and trying to get to know them.
  • You’ve set the tone of who’s in charge and where the boundaries are.
  • You’re holding them accountable and making examples out of behaviors that are less than desirable.
  • You’re lesson planning like there’s no tomorrow. You have plans A, B and C. Your organized, with papers and supplies filed in all the right places. Students don’t have a second’s worth of time to be off task or disruptive.
  • You’ve got the classroom looking so nice. Everything in its place, nice and clean, supplies labeled.

There’s nothing like the first of the year. Unfortunately, time does go by and we, as teachers, get very bogged down with paperwork, parent phone calls and meetings. Little time is left to keep the classroom clean, papers filed, supplies organized, or to create a plan A, let alone a B or a C. Since your plans are not as tight as they once were, students now have time in class to engage in conversations and get off-task, some even becoming perpetual classroom disruptions. At this point, you’re just trying to keep your head above water and teach your students the standards. Lest not forget there’s standardized testing, curriculum benchmarks and exams that require us to stay on mark with the curriculum pacing. You’re students start to feel your stress. They don’t know how to take your new demeanor. They start to take things personally, as if you don’t like them. Realize you haven’t had much time to socialize with them or continue to get to know more about them. They see it as, “You don’t care about them”. Behavior starts to deteriorate. You’re falling behind in the curriculum. Student’s grades start to slip. You start to lose respect and confidence in the eyes of the students. Keep in mind; I’m estimating things start to feel this way come, oh, say October.

This is a sad situation that happens to many teachers, classrooms and schools across the nation. Not to add more stress to your pot, but it’s time we need to realize who’s at fault for this rapid decline. It’s you, the teacher. That’s simply the hard, cold facts. It’s painful, I know. However, look at it this way. Imagine you’ve just seen into the future. You see how things “could” end. Now, what can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?

Somehow, someway, you have to make sure that you keep that momentum in place throughout the year. You must stay consistent with your level of expectations for the students, for your performance as an educator, and for the culture you’ve created in the classroom. Simply doing this will keep a gain you a high level of respect from the students. With this comes respect and loyalty, as well as trust. You’re more than halfway there now!

Other ways to keep the focus on the students is to create a “What’s Happening” board. This of course can be called anything you’d like, but the focus is to capture student successes and learning. This can be achieved by posting high quality student work (keep an eye out for posting the same student’s papers time and time again), or out-of-the-ordinary student achievements. I would not say it this way to the students, but this may be reserved for those students who are below desired level, but makes substantial, but maybe intermittent, gains. This is for students who may struggle with concepts and not catch on to things as quickly as their peers. Celebrating these achievements in a public way creates a nurturing classroom culture that can be very motivating for all students. Finally, post pictures of students in the act of learning, doing a lab or an activity, ones that really capture the positive aspects you were requiring for that task. This is a motivator in and of itself. If students know they are only going to be showcased on the “What’s Happening” board by doing what they’re required to be doing, then you’re job has just become that much easier.

The suggestions above are what make teaching fun. Lesson planning, on the other hand, is not so much fun. Let’s face it. Teachers often times have to teach things they aren’t very interested in. Nonetheless, educators must look beyond a particular section or topic, and look at how to build a nice, solid foundation of knowledge for students. Skipping content does not achieve this. I suggest tapping into your resources to help you plan. The recent buzz word is Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs. These are learning environments within schools and districts that are designed to make teachers work smarter, not harder. Within these communities, teachers need to work together to create common items, be it activities, learning experiences, projects, quizzes or tests. Teachers do have to stop reinventing the wheel. This is such a time waster. Utilize your resources so that you can continue to make your plan A, along with your B and C. Last, but not least, two, three, or more heads are better than one, so put your heads together and create solid lessons to keep the level of learning high and the level of student disruptions low.

By incorporating these things into your daily or weekly routines, you’ll see  you’re not falling into the dark abyss most teachers find come the third or fourth month.  My final suggestion would be to print, or retype, and post the bulleted items I listed at the beginning of this post. Stick them in a location in the classroom that is highly visible to you. I would even suggest reading these over every Sunday night or Monday morning as you put your mind in focus for the week.

Let me know throughout this semester if you’ve found these ideas helpful. Good luck as you transition out of this honeymoon phase.

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